Darwin and his Discontents: A History of Evolution, 1700-1900

BISC 499
University of Southern California
Spring 2009
Darwin and His Discontents: A History of Biological Evolution, 1725-1950
Mondays, 4-7 PM
Prof. Daniel Lewis (Adjunct)
Dibner Senior Curator, History of Science & Technology
The Huntington Library
Office phone: 626-405-2206
e-mail: [email protected]
The history of evolution has influenced an astonishing number of areas of critical thought
and practice since the eighteenth century, ranging from the direction and tenor of
scientific inquiry, to conceptions of natural creation and religion, to the “human
betterment” movement and notions of social and economic Darwinism. While Charles
Darwin was not the first person to conceive of evolution, he posited for the first time the
mechanisms by which evolution worked, most notably, natural selection. His 1859
publication The Origin of Species was arguably the most important book published in the
history of scientific ideas since Nicolas Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbis coelestium
appeared in 1543.
This course – being taught through the Integrative & Evolutionary Biology Department -is designed to present, analyze and discuss the key set of issues surrounding evolution,
starting with Darwin’s immediate intellectual predecessors at the end of the eighteenth
century – including his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin -- and continuing up through into
the 1970s. The primary chronological emphasis, however, will be on the nineteenth
century and the first quarter of the twentieth century.
It is my desire to help scientists-in-training, pre-med students and medical students (and
any other students interested in the topic) to understand the implications of the history of
evolution. This will make you better scientists, doctors, and yes, better-informed citizens.
Science and medicine never take place in a vacuum, and those disciplines are highly
influenced by cultural environment, mores, and the state of other scientific activities at
the time. To understand Darwinian thought and its influences and successors is to be able
to better contextualize modern conceptions of evolution, biological inheritance, and
religion. This course will thus provide a look at the historical antecedents to Darwinian
evolutionary theory; the thinking of catastrophists versus ideas of the linear, progressive
nature of evolution; the responses of religious and spiritual thinkers to the appearance of
the Origin of Species; and the changes to his theory in the decades following its
appearance, including the new understanding of genetics at the start of the twentieth
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century (a critically explanatory piece of the evolutionary puzzle which Darwin did not
live long enough to incorporate). We will analyze Darwin’s thought, scrutinize the
influences on and of Darwin, and embed Darwin’s thinking within the social and political
fabric of his era. We will also discuss changes in evolutionary thinking up through the
Modern Synthesis era.
A couple of the class sessions will meet at the Huntington Library in order to take
advantage of its extraordinarily rich holdings in this area. The Huntington holds the
largest collection of Darwin’s printed works extant in North America, as well as many
important manuscript collections, photographs and printed works related to his
predecessors and successors. The course will thus also offer insight into some of the
research methodologies used by scholars in working with the archival and historical
record to continue and advance Darwinian and evolutionary scholarship, with an eye
towards the most recent historiographical trends.
Regularly attending class is important. Missing more than three classes will result in an F. If
you do have to miss a class I will assign a project for you to make it up.
Please also note the Statement for Students with Disabilities and the Statement on Academic
Integrity following the weekly schedule below.
The class will include an analytical paper of approximately 20 pages in length due by the
final class of the semester; details to follow during the semester.
Your final grade will be based as follows:
30% for a variety of short projects and assignments, both in class and outside of class.
30% for class participation, presentations and assigned class discussions to lead. Note that
this is a substantial part of your grade, so it’s very important that you do the readings
thoroughly, ask lots of questions, and participate enthusiastically.
40% for final paper.
There is no mid-term for the course.
Required texts for the course, in alphabetical order by author:
There are five books totaling six volumes required for the course. They range from
reasonably priced ($30) to just a couple of dollars for used copies, so your total outlay for
books will be relatively small. Virtually all of these texts are available online via
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abebooks.com (for used or new books) or amazon.com (for new books) as well as
through the Bookstore. At least one (Origin of Species) is available in a full facsimile
version online as well. If you buy used copies please be sure to order the edition
specified if there’s more than one edition available, such as Thomas Kuhn’s book.
Some of these are quite substantial, so pace yourself during the week so you can get the
readings done.
Browne, Janet. Charles Darwin: A Biography. This is a two-volume work and the
most substantial biography of Darwin; the first volume is entitled Voyaging
(Princeton University Press, 1995, 605 pp.); and the second volume is The Power
of Place (Princeton University Press, 2002, 590 pp.).
Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species: A Facsimile of the First Edition
(Harvard Paperbacks (Harvard University Press, 2001). ISBN 0674637526. A
facsimile edition of Charles Darwin’s most important work. 502 pp. Please be
sure to get the 1859 first edition rather than the 1882 sixth edition, which is
often the one sold. This work is ALSO AVAILABLE ONLINE: both as a
complete transcription at:
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/sts/cain/texts/darwin/darwin_1859_text_all.pdf and as a
facsimile at: http://www.esp.org/books/darwin/origin/facsimile/ .
Desmond, Adrian and James Moore. Darwin: The Life of a Tormented
Evolutionist (W. W. Norton & Company, paperback edition, 1994). Available
used inexpensively through abebooks.com. A different take on some key aspects
of Darwin, evolution, and Victorian England. 808 pp.
Kuhn, Thomas, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (3rd ed., University of
Chicago Press, 1996). Widely available in hardcover and paperback for cheap, but
try to get the third edition. One of the most important works in the history of
science, dating from the 1st edition in 1962; we’ll discuss this quite a bit and bring
it up to date with a number of supplementary readings on the topic that have
followed Kuhn. 210 pp.
Mayr, Ernst. The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and
Inheritance (Belknap Press, 1985, 858 pp). Available in the bookstore. Also
available used in both paperback and hardback on abebooks.com. A key text by a
famous scientist (he’s been called “the Charles Darwin of the 20th century”)
tracing the history of biological thought up to and past Darwin’s time.
Outline of weekly readings (subject to minor revisions during the semester as
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Week 1 (Monday, Jan. 12): Setting the context: Introduction of class, lecture on
precursors to Darwin (especially Jean-Baptiste Lamarck): evolutionary thought,
transmutation, and notions of change over time.
Week 2 (Jan. 19): -- no class; MLK Day
Week 3 (Jan. 26): Darwin as scientist; context of Victorian England. Janet Browne, Vol.
1, pp. 1-274 (Chapters 1-11).
Week 4 (Feb. 2): The rest of Browne, Vol. 1, pp. 275-543. (Chapters 12-21)
Week 5 (Feb. 9): Browne, Vol. 2, entire.
Week 6 (Feb. 16): Kuhn, entire, on the structure of scientific revolutions, plus article by
Michael Ruse, “The Darwinian Revolution, as seen in 1979 and as seen Twenty-Five
Years Later in 2004.” Class meeting at the Huntington Library. Thomas Kuhn’s own
research papers arrived at the Huntington as part of a larger acquisition in the Fall of
2006, and we will do some archival work in that collection to better understand his
thinking and work.
Week 7 (Feb. 23): Diversity, taxonomy, and common descent: Mayr, pp. 1-534 (Chapters
1-11). Also, turn in proposal for final paper. It doesn’t have to be much; if it’s not
detailed enough to be of potential use to you as an educational tool, I’ll let you know.
GUEST LECTURER: David Archibald, Vertebrate paleobiologist at SDSU, and
nationally-renowned Darwin expert.
Week 8 (Mar. 2): Inheritance and genetics: Mayr, pp. 535-858 (Chapters 12-20).
Week 9 (Mar. 9): Darwin, Origin of Species (entire). Class meeting at the Huntington
Week 10 (Mar. 16): -- NO CLASS; Spring break
Week 11 (Mar. 23): Desmond & Moore, pp. 1-300 (Chapters 1-19)
Week 12 (Mar. 30): Desmond & Moore, pp. 301-678 (Chapters 20-44)
Week 13 (Apr. 6): Supplemental reading/s to be assigned. Will likely include Stephen Jay
Gould’s Ontogeny and Phylogeny, depending on the biology backgrounds of the students.
Week 14 (Apr. 13): Supplemental reading/s to be assigned
Week 15 (Apr. 20): Supplemental articles from the Journal of the History of Biology
Week 16 (Apr. 27): No readings; work on your papers!
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Week 17 (May 4): Final paper due.
Statement for Students with Disabilities
Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to
register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of
verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the
letter is delivered to me (or to TA) as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in
STU 301 and is open 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The phone number
for DSP is (213) 740-0776.
Statement on Academic Integrity
USC seeks to maintain an optimal learning environment. General principles of academic
honesty include the concept of respect for the intellectual property of others, the
expectation that individual work will be submitted unless otherwise allowed by an
instructor, and the obligations both to protect one’s own academic work from misuse by
others as well as to avoid using another’s work as one’s own. All students are expected to
understand and abide by these principles. Scampus, the Student Guidebook, contains the
Student Conduct Code in Section 11.00, while the recommended sanctions are located in
Appendix A: http://www.usc.edu/dept/publications/SCAMPUS/gov/. Students will be
referred to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards for further
review, should there be any suspicion of academic dishonesty. The Review process can
be found at: http://www.usc.edu/student-affairs/SJACS/.
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